When I decided to jump headfirst into my freelance writing career, I was nervous. There were so many doubts that filled my mind: What if I’m not successful? Can’t do this? Don’t make any money? What if I fail? But the most important hurdle I had to overcome—which inevitably led to the start of what is now a strong and fulfilling career—was pushing doubt out of my mind. I had to know, beyond a doubt that I was capable. I had to stop letting outside voices, or even inner ones hold me back. I had to stop being ruled by fear.
The road to becoming a freelance writer is tough. And I mean tough. At first, you flounder. You search for jobs, you apply with no response, or you find something that you think fits and don’t get accepted. You’re confused on whether to pay for job sources, to change your resume or LinkedIn bio, to settle for odd jobs just to make ends meet. You struggle.
But then, over time, you build clientele. You grow. In time, you learn what kind of jobs fit your skills and you apply for them with ease. You start to own your identity and strengths and find individuals and companies that will support and recommend you. You begin to feel confident, and thus opportunities come to you. But it all starts with that first step. And, of course, a few other things, which I’ve outlined in this list.
I love my career, the opportunities I’ve chased and been given, and the people I’ve met and worked with along the way. If you feel freelancing is your passion, I hope this list gives you the excitement and information you need to finally get started.
1. You’re not in this alone.
One of the biggest resources I’ve found along the way is other writers. Sometimes we shy away from asking for help or reaching out to others in our field because we don’t want to a) seem inadequate, or b) affect some sort of ‘competition.’ We think that if we ask someone for help, they might ‘steal’ our clients or opportunities, or worse, laugh at us for not knowing how to do something.
Neither are true. As soon as you can get that self-limiting belief out of your mind, the more successful you will be. Reach out. Talk to other creators. Network. Find out what resources worked best for them and why. Then use that information to build your own platform. (Without plagiarizing, of course.)
2. Challenge is a good thing.
I’ve written about this time and time again, but one of the things that has been the most valuable for me is to remember that nothing good comes without a struggle. I wish this wasn’t the case, but pain is a fact of life—and this is no different when it comes to your career as a freelancer.
Especially as you begin, you’re going to face moments of doubt and hesitation. You’re probably going to apply for something that sounds amazing, and not get the job. You will most likely work with a terrible client at some point. And you’re going to be frustrated.
But challenge is what will develop you. Think about it: if you’re always in the same place, working the same job, writing/creating the same type of content, not only is that boring but one day it will lack the fulfillment a long-term career really needs.
Get excited about the jobs that are challenging, the clients who don’t always agree with you, or even the opportunities that don’t work out. These moments will grow you, push you forward, and ultimately build your character.
3. You have to be active.
Jobs will not just come to you out of the blue. I repeat, jobs will not just come to you. I think there’s this perception that when you become a freelancer, people are going to be reaching out to you left and right. While sometimes this is the case, it’s not all the time. And it’s definitely not something to bank on.
You have to be active in your career search. Just updating your website and changing your LinkedIn profile to say, “for hire” isn’t enough. Posting on social media about your services and sending out two resumes isn’t enough. In the beginning, I probably applied to sixty jobs within the first month. SIXTY. And that was because a) I knew I wasn’t going to be accepted for all of them, b) I wanted to give myself as many opportunities as possible, and c) I wanted to get my name out there.
Of that sixty, I probably landed ten jobs. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it turned out to be full-time work for months! All this is to say if you’re serious about freelancing, you must be ready to take the reins. Reach out, apply, self-advocate, etc. Jobs won’t just come to you. However, they might if you set the first steps in motion, get people to know you, and pave your success from the start.
4. You have to get connected.
Not only do you have to be active, but you have to get connected. Use your social media as a tool to meet people, to share services, or to reach out to potential clients and companies. Follow job boards in your interest area. Check out postings and subscribe to them through your networks—online and in person and join Facebook groups. I can’t tell you how many connections I’ve made through Facebook. It’s truly underrated.
*A quick note on social media: This shouldn’t just be used as a vanity tool. Make it work for you! Something that helped me was creating an Instagram page for my company that was independent from my professional page. This helped in finding clients and directing them to a page where they could see specific services, get connected with other creatives, and network on their own. Instagram direct messaging is surprisingly also great for finding jobs—I’ve had four different freelance projects start through a simple DM.
5. Know your rates + worth.
This was invaluable to me starting out, and frankly, something I struggled with early on. Coming from a full time Staff Writing/Editing position at Thought Catalog, I didn’t know what my per project or hourly rate would be. Here’s how I figured it out:
1. Sorted through and created a list of my qualifications. Ex: University degree, teaching license, years of professional experience, past employment experience related to writing.
2. Researched hourly wages for my local area, state, and country.
3. Researched hourly wages for my specific interest: freelance writing, copywriting, creative writing and compared to the hourly.
4. Considered what taxes would be taken out. Ex: Self-employment etc.
5. Thought about how much time, effort, and quality I would put into a specific project or work, both per hour and per diem.
6. Calculated a rate that fit my skill level, while being realistic in comparison to local, national, and career specific wages.
This took time, but it was important to me to not only create a realistic rate, but know what I would charge and how much I was worth, given my experience and skill level. Does this change per client and project? Absolutely. But in calculating a ‘base rate,’ so to speak, I was able to apply for jobs and approach potential clients with confidence, knowing how much I should be paid.
*Note on rates: Don’t say yes to a price if you know you deserve more than the client/company is offering. Don’t be afraid to negotiate (because oftentimes this will work in your favor, at least a little!) and don’t be afraid to say no if it’s just not worth it. That being said, also be realistic. If it’s a short project, don’t charge an exorbitant amount. Remember that end of the day you want clients and want them to recommend you. This industry isn’t as big as you think and if your prices aren’t fair, the word might spread.
6. Be willing to compromise.
Once you know what you deserve, this part is easier! However, it is one of the most challenging aspects of freelancing because it will happen with almost every client. This isn’t to say that people are underpaying freelancers; sometimes people just don’t see eye-to-eye on the cost of a service. This creates an opportunity for negotiation.
I spoke briefly on this in the point above, but when you’re going into a negotiation understand that you might not leave with exactly what you desired. Of course don’t settle, but be willing and able to make compromises where you see fit.
Example: Perhaps the client wants written content for an entire website at a set price. You give your price, they cut that price in half. Create a counter offer where you do the most important aspects of their website content for the price they gave you. See what they counter back with, and be willing to add other options (to create more writing opportunities for you!) for a slightly lower price than you originally stated.
The above is just an example, but the point is, at the end of the day you want to a) get a client, b) keep a client, and c) keep said client happy. Finding a way to compromise without lowering your worth is essential to building your career base.
7. Develop your brand.
Branding yourself can truly make or break a successful career. This can come in a myriad of ways.
1. Creating an online identity and persona that really captures the essence of you, your work, and what kind of services you can provide. (Can be done largely through social media.)
2. Having a set ‘style’ or ‘voice’ in your writing that is recognizable as ‘you.’
3. Using a distinct, set color scheme, style, logo, etc. on all your created content—newsletters, emails, social media, business cards, printed copy etc.
When we hear the word ‘branding’ we get nervous (especially as writers) because that sounds like a marketing term. Branding doesn’t have to be intimidating, though. One of the first ways you can really ‘brand’ yourself is to look at your writing—both creative and professional—and see what sticks out as your voice.
Is there a certain style in which you write? A rhythm to your work? Something that really makes you different? Capitalize on that and make sure you are highlighting that as you apply for positions or talk to clients about what you can specifically offer them.
Other branding can be done through creating a sense of your identity through social media and other outlets. That can be anything from a logo you use to stamp all your printed correspondence, an email footer to sign each of your emails with, or even a color scheme/layout on your Instagram.
Branding is easy. Don’t be afraid of it.
8. Stay positive, even in setbacks.
Every career is going to have ups and downs. Sometimes you’re going to be thriving, and sometimes you’re going to be desperate for clients. In all these moments, focus on building yourself in the best way possible. Can’t find a job? Work on revamping your resume. Not having success on any job boards? Tap into resources that are specific for freelancers to spark your career back up.
Remember: this is a difficult, yet sustainable career. You are the only one who can make it work and to do so you have to stay positive.
Any questions? Thoughts? Feedback. Feel free to shoot me an email.
Featured Image Credit: Kinga Cichewicz